Category Archives: Featured Blog

Field Notes: Backpacking Gifford Pinchot NF with Outdoor Asian

Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Jay Horita is a Youth & Community Engagement Specialist for Northwest Youth Corps, supporting the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region. Here, he shares notes from a weekend backpacking experience with Outdoor Asian, a nonprofit whose goal is to encourage and study the participation of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors.

Participants pose for a group photo during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants pose for a group photo during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. From left: Jay Horita, Alvin Loong, Alice Cao, Chris Liu, Yewah Lau, Mumtz Mesania, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, Deeshi Donnelly, Cheryl Truong, and Depak Awari. Courtesy photo provided by Deepak Awari.

On Friday, August 30th 2019, eleven members of the Outdoor Asian community from the Oregon and Washington chapters drove up a pothole-ridden and rocky Forest Service road to the Glacier View Trailhead in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest.

After a hot meal of noodles, we hit the sleeping bags to prepare for the next day’s backpacking adventure. 

Participants hike a trail downhill during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants hike a trail downhill during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

This trip was the very first of its kind for Outdoor Asian in many ways: the first backpacking trip, the first multi-chapter collaboration event, the first trip occurring in wilderness areas of two public land agencies.

Trip leaders Chris Liu and I spent much time planning a positive, fun, challenging, and educational backpacking adventure for eleven Outdoor Asians. 

Participants prepared food, including some traditional asian dishes, during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants prepared food, including some traditional asian dishes, during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. From left: Chris Liu, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, and Deepak Awari. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo provided by Deepak Awari.

We deliberately chose a diverse meal plan, which ranged from instant noodles to elaborate dahl and roti from scratch (rolled out on our Nalgene bottles!), to showcase the vast diversity of Asian backpacking food options.

Our goal was to ensure the participants realized they don’t have to give up their culinary heritage on trips into the back country! Thinking back to my early years in back country adventuring, I remember trips where all I ate were dehydrated mashed potatoes and tortillas, so it was great to treat everyone to familiar foods. We even had a rare tea blend, a Yuzu Green tea, to enjoy throughout the trip. The food brought us closer together, helping make the trip feel more like a family adventure.

Participants get a lesson in reading topographical maps during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants get a lesson in reading topographical maps during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. From left: Jay Horita, Yewah Lau, Mumtaz Mesania, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, Alice Cao, Cheryl Truong, Chris Liu, and Alvin Loong. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Besides giving everyone a great backcountry experience, Chris and I also wanted to talk about a range of important topics from Leave-No-Trace principles to Wilderness First Aid. Some even had the chance to practice wilderness first aid by patching each others’ blisters and hot spots!

Participants compare trail footwear during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.
Participants compare trail footwear during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.

Our group included seasoned public land stewards, from biologists to district rangers, who shared their experiences working for the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.

Those uninitiated to public land management got a crash course on the differences between National Forest land (where we started the hike) and National Park land (where we ended it).

Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Crossing the boundary from the Glacier View Wilderness into Mt. Rainier Wilderness was a special moment!

For me, the ultimate trip highlight was arriving at the Gobblers Knob fire lookout tower, where Mt. Rainier (or Tahoma, one of many Native American names for the mountain) peaked its glacier-covered summit through the clouds.

The mountain was spectacular and humbling. The lakes and meadows we visited were calming. The stars gave us perspective. The wilderness gave us the best backdrop to share our experiences as Outdoor Asians and develop our connection to a life outdoors.

Outdoor Asian participants pose atop a rocky outcrop during an August, 2019 backpacking trip through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.
Outdoor Asian participants pose atop a rocky outcrop during an August, 2019 backpacking trip through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.

In future trips, we hope to address how all public lands (indeed all lands in the Americas) were cared for by the diverse tribes, groups, and nations of Native Americans; and still are, in many places.

Most importantly, we celebrated our shared connection to the land across all cultures. The Forest Service is, like most things, ephemeral in comparison to the mountain and its landscapes.

Hiking safely with mountain goats

A man with Mountain Goat on Mt Ellinor Trail in the Olympic National Forest in Washington. May 4, 2016. USDA Forest Service photo. For Mountain Goat Safety Guidelines: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/olympic/home/?cid=stelprdb5412239

How does one hike safely with mountain goats?

Step one: Back away, slowly.

Catching a glimpse of a goat perched high on the side of a craggy hillside or cliff is a welcome sight to many hikers and other recreational users of Your Northwest Forests.

But as the number of people using the forests increases, there’s also an increased risk of human-wildlife encounters that pose a threat to both humans and goats.

Three mountain goats are harnessed to a hoist line as they are transported below a helicopter to a handler, who waits to unharness the goats in the bed of a flatbed truck. The goats were sedated, blindfolded, then brought to this landing zone for veterinarian care prior to transport National Forests in the north Cascades mountains for release in native habitat. National Park Service Photo John Gussman.
Three mountain goats are harnessed to a hoist line as they are transported below a helicopter to a handler, who waits to unharness the goats in the bed of a flatbed truck. The goats were sedated, blindfolded, then brought to this landing zone for veterinarian care prior to transport National Forests in the north Cascades mountains for release in native habitat. National Park Service photo by John Gussman.

At places like Mount Ellinor on the Olympic National Forest, where the goats don’t naturally range (they were introduced to the area by hunters), salt they need to live is scarce.

Goats have been known to seek out humans, sometimes aggressively, in search of their food, sweat, and even urine.

In other forests, some mountain goats have grown accustomed to curious people getting too close and lost their fear of humans, with similar results.

While several agencies are working to relocate some goats to areas where they naturally range, it’s important to prevent all wild goats from becoming habituated to human contact, so they can remain wild without posing an undue threat to humans’ safety.

To protect wildlife from negative impacts of human contact:

  • Keep your distance! Stay at least 50 yards away from all mountain goats – about half the length of a football field.
  • If a mountain goat approaches, slowly move away from it to keep a safe distance.
  • If it continues to approach, try to scare it off by yelling, waving a piece of clothing, or throwing rocks.
  • Never surround, crowd, chase, or follow a mountain goat.
  • Do not feed mountain goats (or allow them to lick your skin, clothes, or gear, which may have absorbed salt from your sweat).
  • If you need to urinate while hiking, move far from the trail to avoid leaving concentrations of salts and minerals trailside, or contributing to the accumulation of minerals in one place.

Source information: Olympic National Forest (website)

Seeking ground less traveled: how elk respond to recreation

A female elk wearing a telemetry collar in the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, Ore. The collar enabled scientists to track the animal’s movements in response to different types of recreation by volunteers wearing GPS units while riding all-terrain vehicles, mountain bikes, horses, or on foot. Courtesy photo by Leslie Naylor; Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Department of Natural Resources.

Recreation on public land is increasingly popular in the Pacific Northwest. But recreation management requires balancing opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors with mitigating the effects on wildlife and other natural resources.

Recreation and wildlife managers who are grappling with these issues asked scientists to quantify the impacts of motorized and non-motorized recreation on elk.

In Science Findings # 219, the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station explores recent research in Oregon that sought to measure how elk respond to various human, and especially recreation-based, activities.

Elk are highly valued for hunting and viewing by the public. As large herbivores, they also play a critical role in many ecosystems of the Intermountain West.

A large fenced area within the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range in eastern Oregon provided a unique setting for assessing how a wide-ranging species like elk respond to four types of recreation.

Real-time data recorded by telemetry units worn by people and elk alike allowed scientists to establish a cause-effect relationship between human movements and activities and elk responses.

Scientists found that elk avoided areas where humans were recreating. All-terrain vehicle use was most disruptive human-initiated activity, followed by mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

When exposed to these activities, elk spent more time moving rather than feeding and resting.

The findings build on earlier studies, which suggested that frequent disruptions and movement to avoid human contact increase mortality rates for newborn elk.

Researchers also found that such disruptions effectively reduce the total amount of usable habitat available for elk herds.

Land managers can use this information to assess trade-offs between multiple, and often competing, land uses. When combined with planning efforts that include stakeholder engagement, this research may offer a clearer path forward on balancing human and wildlife needs on National Forests and other public and privately-held lands.


Source information: Science Findings is published monthly by the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station. To search past issues, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/.

Engineering answers for Spirit Lake

An aerial view to the south of Mount St. Helens in 1982 as another lahar—melted snow and volcanic rock (think wet cement)—occurred. When the lahar encountered the debris blockage from 1980, part of it flowed into Spirit Lake (bottom left), while the rest flowed west into the Loowit Creek drainage that flows into the upper North Fork Toutle River. USGS photo by Tom Casadevall.

In Science Findings #218, “The Spirit Lake Dilemma: Engineering a Solution for a Lake with a Problematic Outlet,” USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station writers explore new research into the future repair or replacement of an outflow tunnel at Spirit Lake, on Mount St. Helens.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 fundamentally transformed the surrounding landscape, triggering geophysical processes that are still unfolding.

Spirit Lake, with Mount St. Helens, Washington, in the background (2015). A debris avalanche triggered by a volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980, blocked the lake’s natural outlet. A tunnel was built to safely remove water from the lake and minimize the risk of catastrophic flooding to communities downstream. Maintaining the tunnel is expensive, so long-term solutions are being explored. USDA Forest Service photo by Rhonda Mazza.

Among them was a debris avalanche caused by the eruption, that blocked the outlet from Spirit Lake to the North Fork Toutle River.

To prevent the rising lake level from breaching the blockage and potentially flooding communities downstream, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an outlet tunnel to maintain safe lake levels.

However, the tunnel must be periodically closed for repairs, during which time the lake level rises.

Prolonged closures, combined with increased volume from melting rainfall and snow in the spring, could allow the water level to rise high enough to breach the natural dam.

In 2015, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest commissioned a study to assess risks associated with alternative outlet options.

A team consisting of researchers from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Oregon State University authored the study.

At the team’s request, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a dam safety risk-assessment of long-term solutions: maintaining the existing tunnel, rehabilitating the tunnel, creating an open channel across the blockage, or installing a buried conduit across the blockage.

The assessment determined that there is no risk-free way to remove water from Spirit Lake, but the likelihood is generally low that these solutions will fail.

With this information, the Forest Service is moving forward with developing a long-term solution to managing the Spirit Lake outlet.


Source information: Rhonda Mazza is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station, which publishes Science Findings. Find past Science Findings at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/.

Animation tells story of fish and fire

Fire and Fish: Habitat and History in the Northwest is a 5-minute animated video featuring two Forest Service research biologists that illustrates the complex relationship between fire and fish in Pacific Northwest rivers and streams. This screen capture from the video depicts juvenile fish finding shelter within a fallen log that has become submerged in a stream channel, providing refuge from both predators and strong currents.

An animated video recently released by the Pacific Fire Science Consortium explores and illustrates the complex relationship between fish and fire in the Pacific northwest United States.

The video, “Fish and Fire: History and Habitat in the Pacific Northwest,” was produced by the University of Oregon School of Journalism.

It features interviews two Forest Service research fish biologists, Rebecca Flitcroft and Gordon Reeves, both assigned to the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station.

The scientists explain how some fish species in the Pacific Northwest have adapted to benefit from the impact of intermittent forest fires:

  • Fire adds silt and small rocks or gravel, which replenish materials needed to for some fish to create spawning beds.
  • Dead trees may fall into streams, creating complexity in the stream’s flow, which can reduce stress on fish by providing refuge from strong currents.
  • Log jams especially benefit juvenile species by creating broad flood plains, further diffusing rapid currents and offering many nooks and crannies in which to evade predators while nourishing the insect larvae, worms, beetles, and other organisms they may feed on.

The University of Oregon, the university’s Ecosystem Workforce Program, the Oregon State University and its Extension Service, The Nature Conservancy, Sustainable Northwest, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station are members of the Northwest Fire Science Consortium, one of fifteen regional science information exchanges funded by the Joint Fire Science Program.

From FireScience.gov:

In the Pacific Northwest, native salmon and trout (family Salmonidae) are some of the toughest survivors on the block. Over time, these fish have evolved behavioral adaptations to natural disturbances, and they rely on these disturbances to deliver coarse sediment and wood that become complex stream habitat. Powerful disturbances such as wildfire, post fire landslides, and debris flows may be detrimental to fish populations in the short term, but over time they enrich in-stream habitats, enhancing long-term fish survival and productivity.

LAND MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS

Forest management activities, such as enhancing river network connectivity through fish passage barrier removal and reducing predicted fire intensity and sizes, may increase the resilience of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in the face of disturbances such as climate change and wildfire.

Natural disturbances, along with sound riparian management and road management practices that allow natural flood plain functioning, are important in maintaining healthy change in aquatic habitats. Connected, complex aquatic habitats benefit from ecosystem management practices that are analogous to the spatial extent of wildfires and bridge human-imposed divides such as land ownership boundaries.

Fire planning that includes aquatic issues such as habitat quality, stream network connectivity, and fish population resilience offers resource managers the opportunity to broaden fire management goals and activities to include potential positive effects on aquatic habitats.

WATCH the video here (or find it on YouTube):

More information:

Science Findings #198 (July, 2017): https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/publications/adaptation-wildfire-fish-story

“Wildfire may increase habitat quality for spring Chinook salmon in the Wenatchee River subbasin, WA, USA” (submitted 2015, published 2016): https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/journals/pnw_2015_flitcroft001.pdf


Source information: The USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station is a leader in the scientific study of natural resources. We generate and communicate impartial knowledge to help people understand and make informed choices about natural resource management and sustainability. The station has 11 laboratories and research centers in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, and manages 12 active experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds.

Old-growth forests may shelter pockets of biodiversity after severe fires

A northern spotted owl perches on a tree limb.

CORVALLIS, Ore. (July 2, 2019) New findings show that old-growth forests, a critical nesting habitat for threatened northern spotted owls, are less likely to experience high-severity fire than young-growth forests during wildfires.

This suggests that old-growth forest could be leveraged to provide valuable fire refuges that support forest biodiversity and buffer the extreme effects of climate change on fire regimes in the Pacific Northwest.

A recent study published in the journal Ecosphere examined the impact of the Douglas Complex and Big Windy fires, which burned in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Oregon during July 2013, a drought year.

The fires burned through a long-term study area for northern spotted owls.

Using information on forest vegetation before and after the fires, along with known spotted owl nesting areas, researchers had an unprecedented chance to compare the impact of wildfire on critical old-growth nesting habitat.

“On federally managed lands, spotted owl nesting habitat is largely protected from timber harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan, but wildfire is still a primary threat to the old-growth forest that spotted owls rely on for nesting habitat,” Damon Lesmeister, a research wildlife biologist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, said. “The loss of spotted owl nesting habitat as a result of severe fire damage could have significant negative impacts on the remaining spotted owl populations as well as a large number of other wildlife species that rely on these old forests.”

Old-growth forests have more vegetation than younger forests. Researchers expected that this meant more fuel would be available for wildfires, increasing the susceptibility of old-growth forests to severe fire, high tree mortality, and resulting loss of critical spotted owl nesting habitat.

However, the data suggested a different effect.

Lesmeister and his colleagues classified fire severity based on the percentage of trees lost in a fire, considering forest that lost less than 20% of its trees to fire as subject to low-severity fire and those with more than 90% tree loss as subject to high-severity fire.

They found that old-growth forest was up to three times more likely to burn at low severity — a level that avoided loss of spotted owl nesting habitat and is generally considered to be part of a healthy forest ecosystem. 

“Somewhat to our surprise, we found that, compared to other forest types within the burned area, old-growth forests burned on average much cooler than younger forests, which were more likely to experience high-severity fire. How this actually plays out during a mixed-severity wildfire makes sense when you consider the qualities of old-growth forest that can limit severe wildfire ignitions and burn temperatures, like shading from multilayer canopies, cooler temperatures, moist air and soil as well as larger, hardier trees,” Lesmeister said.

Because old-growth forests may be refuges for low-severity fire on a landscape that experiences moderate to high-severity fires frequently, they could be integral as biodiversity refuges in an increasingly fire-prone region.

Leveraging the potential of old-growth forests to act as refuges may be an effective tool for forest managers as they deal with worsening fire seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

The study was a collaboration between researchers Damon Lesmeister and David Bell, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Stan Sovern and Matthew Gregory, Oregon State University; Raymond Davis, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region; and Jody Vogeler, Colorado State University. 


Source information: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (press release). The research station – headquartered in Portland, Ore. – generates and communicates scientific knowledge to help people make informed choices about natural resources and the environment. The station has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and about 300 employees. Learn more at https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/

Forest Feature: Bigfoot

Someone you might see on the National Forest: Bigfoot/Sasquatch, pictured here. Sasquatches have been seen running away from a wildfire. Please be careful with fire when you are visiting their neighborhood.

It comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. It’s an animal today, but a plant the next? Few see it, but it sees all. It (allegedly) LOVES Nutella! It’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s the last of its kind, a true legend. That’s right, this month’s Forest Feature honors the Pacific Northwest’s most unique forest creature: BIGFOOT!

Lurking always just out of sight, our friendly 8-or-more-feet-tall, gentle giant of the Pacific Northwest has (reportedly) graced us with its presence for decades now.

Some say that its large stature belies an otherwise congenial attitude towards other forest-dwelling creatures.

However in times past and present, many have described a “wild man” or “hairy man” stealing food from unwary hikers.

Some anthropologists and dedicated Bigfoot-hunters have devoted their lives to revealing its secrets; but in true bigfoot-style, the creature remains largely unexposed. You won’t even find it posting on Instagram (although you may find many imposters posing for a Kodak moment).

Did you know?

  • Bigfoot, sometimes known as Sasquatch, is also rumored to be a shapeshifter
  • The highest number of Bigfoot sightings is in Clackamas County (Oregon), along Hwy 244.
  • The Blue Mountains is allegedly one of its favorite spots, and where parts of the 1995 film “Bigfoot: The Unforgettable Encounter” were filmed (the story is set in Shaver Lake, Calif. and in the Modoc National Forest, also in California).
  • The first motion picture footage (alleged to be) of the elusive, notoriously camera-shy creature is known as the Petterson-Gimlin film, filmed in 1967.

This month, we have no photos of Bigfoot to share… but we do have a coloring page depicting an artist’s conception of Bigfoot in its natural habitat, created by the Jimmye Turner, a USDA Forest Service fire prevention specialist on the Umatilla National Forest.

We also have a drawing activity to help students draw on their creativity, curiosity, and to inspire questions about the many adaptations animals have evolved to meet the challenges of their environment.

While some of you may not be Bigfoot believers, Bigfoot offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about fire prevention during the hottest month of the year, the unexplored and undiscovered aspects of our forest’s wild and wilderness areas, and the importance of preserving habitat before more species become scarce, and seemingly as difficult to find as Bigfoot has proved to be.

Both of these resources are fun for all ages, but are especially suited to students in early elementary school (grades K-4).

Gather stories about Bigfoot in your own communities, use its mystique to inspire stewardship of the forest!

Resources:

Someone you might see on the National Forest: Bigfoot/Sasquatch, pictured here. Sasquatches have been seen running away from a wildfire. Please be careful with fire when you are visiting their neighborhood.
A coloring page, featuring Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch). USDA Forest Service illustration by Jimmye Turner, Umpqua National Forest staff.

Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, a family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like fact sheets, activities, or links to other educational resources about this topic – and for information about other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate environmental education and forest science in your classroom – email YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

Fire season safety tips for smoke-sensitive persons, drivers

Smoke blowing over a roadway nearly obscures USDA Forest Service wildland fire truck (WA-OWF E644) and a wildland firefighter from the camera's view.

While the “fire season” is off to a slower-than-normal start in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, fires like the Milepost 97 are here and ready to remind fire isn’t the only seasonal hazard to watch for. There are also two, other, closely related risks faced by our firefighters and our community during the season: smoke and motor vehicle traffic.

Even small fires can send a lot of smoke into nearby roadways. Sometimes, even smoke drift from distant fires can create enough haze to reduce visibility. That reduced visibility is a risk to pedestrians, other motorists (including those in or responding to disabled vehicles along the road shoulder), and even firefighters working nearby.

If you’re traveling in areas with nearby fire activity, be careful and use extra caution. In addition to reduced or poor visibility, you may encounter heavy equipment and firefighting trucks on the road. Drive carefully, slow down, and give plenty of space to firefighters and fire vehicles. Use extra caution when driving in smoke-filled conditions; debris, disabled vehicles and pedestrians may be concealed from view until you’re vehicle is just a few feet away.

Follow these tips to keep yourself and others, including firefighters and smoke-sensitive loved ones, safe!

  • If your travel plans require you to drive on routes that are impacted by fire or firefighting activity, consider alternate travel dates and/or routes.
  • If you must drive, pay close attention to road closures and warnings.
  • Be alert! Fire activity and subsequent operations can change quickly.  Adapt driving patterns accordingly and always yield to emergency responders.
  • Navigation applications on smart phones or other devices (GPS / maps) may not accurately reflect changing conditions. Watch out for changing local conditions and detours.
  • Plan ahead. If you live in a fire-prone area (which is all of us, in the Pacific Northwest!), keep your gas tank filled at least 3/4 full at all times. Maintain a clean air filter, and carry paper map or road atlas to assist you in travelling in areas with limited cell phone reception. Bring an extra cell phone charger (and battery back-up); make sure you have a spare tire and jack; and carry extra water, food, a first aid kit and a blanket in your vehicle at all times.
  • Remove unnecessary flammables from the vehicle, such as containers of gas and oil.
  • Stay calm and focus on driving tasks. Drivers should not be texting, taking photos or video footage, no matter what is unfolding around them!
  • Keep headlights “on” for safety when driving.
  • Keep vehicle windows closed when travelling through smoke, and close all exterior air vents; set air conditioning to the “recirculation” setting.
  • Smoke-filled air can also impact health at home, particularly for young children, the elderly, and for people with chronic heart or lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and COPD. If possible, maintain a “clean room” at home in which air can be filtered by an appropriately-sized filtration system; ideally, a True HEPA filter rated to remove 99.97% of particles of .3 microns or larger, paired with an activated charcoal filter to trap volatile organic compounds. (An air ionizer may also be helpful, but discuss your plans with a doctor as not everyone is a good candidate. Those with sensitive lungs should only run an ionizer while away from home to avoid breathing ionized particles, and people who are sensitive to ozone should not use ionizers).
  • Plan ahead! It’s important for everyone to have an emergency evacuation plan, but it is especially important for those with special needs, pets, or who do not have access to a motor vehicle to plan ahead. Find advice on emergency preparedness planning at RedCross.org and at Ready.gov.

Planning travel, and need the latest traffic, smoke and safety updates? These websites can help!

Why are bark beetles attracted to heat-stressed trees? Alcohol, new study says

Close-up image of a red turpentine beetle (Dendroctonus valens).

Foresters have long known that trees under stress from fire injury are vulnerable to bark beetle attacks. Now, Rick Kelsey and Doug Westlind, researchers with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, have developed a model that explains how physiological changes cause heat stress in woody tissues, even after exposure to less-than-lethal fire temperatures, and produce a chemical signal that attracts some bark beetles.

When heat disrupts normal cell functions, the tree produces ethanol as a short-term survival strategy.

And if enough ethanol accumulates, mixes with volatile organic compounds in the tree’s resin, and is released to the atmosphere, the combination has proved to be a strong attractant for red turpentine beetles.

A man in protective hat, vest inspects a tall, hanging series of cones.
Retired Forest Service scientist Rick Kelsey collects bark beetles captured in funnel traps following a prescribed fire in Oregon. Understanding the interplay between tree response to heat stress and certain insects can help forest managers design fuel-reduction treatments to achieve specific outcomes. USDA Forest Service photo.

Kelsey and Westlind showed that ethanol interacts synergistically with 3-carene, a dominant ponderosa pine resin monoterpene. In a trapping study, red turpentine beetles were more attracted to lures combining ethanol and 3-carene than lures with ethanol or 3-carene alone.

Understanding ecosystem responses to fire can help managers characterize forest health and plan for post-fire management.

The results also hold promise for developing simple ethanol detection methods for monitoring tree stress.

Real-time feedback on ethanol levels could help forest managers quickly assess which trees to cull after a fire, and which to leave in place.

Learn more in the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Science Findings 217, at https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/58195.

Ethanol dissipation mechanisms: diffusion, sapflow, and metabolism with relative rates at ambient conditions. Ethanol is metabolized by alcohol dehydrogenase to acetaldehyde (Zanon et al. 2007), which is converted by aldehyde dehydrogenase to acetate, which is converted by acetyl-CoA synthase into acetyl-CoA (MacDonald and Kimmerer 1993, Gass et al. 2005). The latter can enter the tricarboxylic acid or glyoxylate cycles or be used to synthesize lipids depending on heat damage to membranes and enzymes. Ethanol dissipation mechanisms: diffusion, sapflow, and metabolism with relative rates at ambient conditions. Ethanol is metabolized by alcohol dehydrogenase to acetaldehyde (Zanon et al. 2007), which is converted by aldehyde dehydrogenase to acetate, which is converted by acetyl-CoA synthase into acetyl-CoA (MacDonald and Kimmerer 1993, Gass et al. 2005). The latter can enter the tricarboxylic acid or glyoxylate cycles or be used to synthesize lipids depending on heat damage to membranes and enzymes.
As ethanol accumulates in the tree, it immediately begins to dissipate via (1) diffusion, (2) sapflow, and (3) metabolism. Each process is affected differently by the heat-stress mechanism the tissues and whole tree experience. USDA Forest Service illustration (originally published at https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/5/443/3746565).

Source information: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (Science Findings 217). The research station – headquartered in Portland, Ore. – generates and communicates scientific knowledge to help people make informed choices about natural resources and the environment. The station has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and about 300 employees. Learn more at https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/

After a century’s absence, migratory steelhead return to Beaver Creek

three migratory steelhead are pictured swimming in turbulent waters

LA GRANDE, Ore. (July 29, 2019) Earlier this summer, Tim Bailey and Winston Morton of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were looking for signs of spawning steelhead in the headwaters of Beaver Creek southwest of La Grande. 

They’d surveyed miles of the creek, tediously making their way over downed trees, rocks, and slippery stream banks while scanning the streambed. 

Then they found four redds, depressions in the river gravel made by fish to lay their eggs. 

This simple discovery represents a breakthrough for migratory steelhead, which had not been able to reach the headwaters of Beaver Creek for over 100 years.

A migratory steelhead leaps from the water in an effort to clear a rocky outcrop blocking it's passage upstream.
Human development that blocks migratory steelhead access to historical habitat, as well as poorly-designed passages that create strong currents can tire young fish expose them from predators, have resulted in several species being listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Courtesy photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Migratory steelhead are amazing fish. After they are born and raised in cold freshwater streams, they will swim hundreds of miles to feed and grow in the ocean. Then they swim back to the stream of their birth to reproduce. 

For many thousands of years, steelhead followed this life cycle in the Grande Ronde River and its tributaries, including the headwaters of Beaver Creek.

That changed a century ago with the construction of the Beaver Creek Dam and four water diversions in the La Grande municipal watershed.

Steelhead and other migratory fish could no longer swim past the dam and diversions to reach the high-quality spawning and rearing habitat in upper Beaver Creek. 

A man looks out at a concrete weird under construction along a streambed.
A concrete weir under construction as part of the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project. Just two years after construction, fish biologists have found signs of migratory steelhead returning to the river for the first time in a century. Courtesy photo: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)

To solve this problem, several local, state, and federal entities teamed up to implement the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project.

When the construction crew broke ground in June of 2017, the project had been in various stages of planning for 20 years.

Why did it take so long?

Designing a structure to provide fish passage up to, and down from, the Beaver Creek Dam was a significant engineering challenge. The structure had to be low-maintenance and work without electricity; it also had to accommodate high flows in the spring as well as low flows later in the summer.

A series of precast concrete weirs is laid into the Beaver Creek streambed.
A series of precast concrete weirs under construction as part of the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project. Courtesy photo by Anderson Perry & Associates Inc.

The City of La Grande worked with a local civil engineering firm, Anderson Perry & Associates, to evaluate several alternatives for a fish passage structure, and other project partners provided technical feedback.

They ultimately landed on a one-of-a-kind solution: a series of 59 precast concrete weirs (little dams). Each weir weighs 27,000 pounds and had to be constructed off site.

Stacked one-by-one along about 400 feet of the dam’s eastern spillway, the weirs create a staircase of resting pools that allow fish to jump & swim up and over the top of the dam.

To date, there are no other fishways like this in the Pacific Northwest.

Construction workers install a series of precast concrete weirs in a temporarily-drained stream bed.
A series of precast concrete weirs under construction as part of the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project. The 2017 installation of 59 weirs provides a series of resting pools for fish to swim up to, and down from, the Beaver Creek Dam. Courtesy photo by Anderson Perry & Associates Inc.

Implementing the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project took a total of $1,125,700 and vital contributions from several partners:

  • The City of La Grande provided technical expertise, project funding, and grant administration.
  • Anderson Perry & Associates of La Grande provided engineering design and construction project management.
  • Lindley Contracting of Union constructed the project, including the fish passage structure, upgraded several intake structures, and replaced worn out utility infrastructure.
  • Grande Ronde Model Watershed facilitated project funding, including $150,000 from the Bonneville Power Administration, as well as technical feedback that contributed to the enhancement of the project.
  • The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board contributed $150,000.
  • The Oregon Water Resources Department provided $600,000 in grant funding.
  • The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife provided expert advice, design review, and project monitoring.
  • The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest provided environmental analysis, planning, technical feedback, and implementation support.

“I’m grateful for the collaborative effort put forth by everyone involved,” Kyle Carpenter, La Grande’s director of public works, said.  “The wealth of knowledge and experience that we all pooled together, along with our cooperative move-it-forward mentality, were invaluable in the successful completion of this project.”

“The La Grande Municipal Watershed provides some of the best drinking water in the world, straight from our National Forest,” Lee Mannor, water superintendent for the city of La Grande, said.  “Now we also provide some of the best native fish habitat in the world.  That is something we can all be proud of when we turn on the tap.”

“The Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project was a special one for our team,” Brett Moore, P.E., with Anderson Perry & Associates, Inc., said  “The City of La Grande asked us to help them solve a unique engineering design problem, which is always rewarding.  This project also gave us a chance to be part of something much bigger right here in our own backyard.”

“This is a testament to nature’s resilience,” Jesse Steele, interim director of the Grande Ronde Model Watershed, said.  “I’m looking forward to more success stories as we continue to connect and restore habitat in the Grande Ronde Basin.”

“After more than 100 years away, migratory steelhead now have access to over 14 miles of pristine spawning and rearing habitat above the Beaver Creek Dam, and they are moving back in,” Tim Bailey, a fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said.  “Finding those first four redds was an important milestone, and I expect we will find even more in the future.”

“It really made my summer when I heard that steelhead were once again spawning in upper Beaver Creek,” Bill Gamble, district ranger for the La Grande District, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said.  “There is a lot of credit to go around. We in the Forest Service were just privileged to work with so many great partners over the years to help make the Beaver Creek Fish Passage Project a reality. This is another win for our local restoration economy – where habitat restoration projects are driving more investments and jobs while improving everyone’s access to natural resources.”

An Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife employee, in the foreground, inspects a portion of Beaver Creek being restored for improved fish passage.
An Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife employee, foreground, inspects a portion of Beaver Creek being restored for improved fish passage. Courtesy photo by Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

For more information, please see the article, “Reconnecting the Habitat Dots,” published in Ripples in the Grande Ronde and the La Grande Observer in the summer of 2017.


Source information: Wallowa Whitman National Forest (press release).

« Older Entries